Roanoke Valley Radio Control Club takes flight with annual event
VINTON–The Roanoke Valley Radio Control Club (RVRC) has 125+ members from the Roanoke Valley, the New River Valley, and beyond. They have members in middle school and some in their 90’s; but on June 23 and 24 they all came together at Club Field for their biggest annual event, Wings over Salem.
Each year the club honors veterans at this event and raises funds for a specific veteran’s charity. The chosen charity this year was the Wounded Warriors Project, which provides programs and services to meet the needs of injured armed service members.
“About 25% of our members are veterans, from World War II to current vets,” said Josh May, contest director for Wings over Salem.
This year’s event featured the whole gamut of radio control model aircraft, on display and in flight, from sailplanes without power, to those powered by glow fuel or gasoline engines, to electric motors, and even miniature jet turbine engines. And these aren’t the little models that fit on a shelf; many have wingspans of several feet.
Even full-size aircraft participated in the event. A Piper Cub plane took off from Blue Ridge Soaring Society in Craig County, towing a glider, which was released over the Salem Club field and landed on the airstrip at Saturday’s event, followed by the Cub.
A seaplane from Claytor Lake State Park performed a Fly-By, making several passes over the field before returning to his home base. On Sunday, a helicopter was part of the show. Rides on the glider, Piper Cub, and helicopter were raffled off as part of the fundraising activities.
But the most fascinating part of the air show were the hundreds of different planes displayed and demonstrated by pilots of all ages and experience levels.
Andrew Phillips of Salem is 14 and has been a member of the club for over a year. His family isn’t involved in aviation or radio control aircraft, but his dream is to join the Air Force. When they asked what he wanted for Christmas one year, his answer was a radio control aircraft. They fulfilled his wish and since then his Christmas request has been for money to fund his hobby.
Phillips has two planes so far, a Switch, which he used for training, and a Hawker Hurricane, both electric. Like many of the older members of the club, Phillips has a special interest in historic aircraft. The Hurricane is a replica of a British WWII monoplane fighter.
Phillips learned to fly the same way that many older pilots in the club did—with a buddy box. This is a system somewhat like driver’s education, where an experienced pilot trains a novice by using two transmitters for one airplane. If the trainee has difficulty, the instructor takes over the control of the plane. Phillips spent about four months being trained.
Radio-control airplane enthusiasts generally start building aircraft with a kit. Many support their local Salem hobby shop, Crossroads Hobbies & Crafts when purchasing supplies. As they gain experience, RC enthusiasts begin to modify the kits to add more exacting detail.
Don Pedersen, of the Cave Spring area, is recognized as one of the top aircraft builders in the club with one of the finest planes. He has spent 1,000 hours building a replica of an S.E.5a, a British biplane fighter aircraft from the First World War.
He researched the original plane, which is on display at a museum in England, obtaining photos of every feature. His model is built to 1/4 scale, and is accurate down to the stitching on the fabric-covered body and the instrument panels in the cockpit.
Pedersen’s model plane was originally gas-powered, but he converted to batteries. Electric model planes are lighter and more flexible. His aircraft operates on two 5 cell batteries and weighs 22 pounds.
“This particular plane is a better flyer than most World War I planes,” said Pedersen. “It’s a sweet plane to fly, very docile. Military planes were designed to shoot down other planes or drop bombs, not to do aerobatics.”
Jeff Bush, of Vinton, displayed a replica of the P-51C Mustang aircraft named the “Berlin Express” that local World War II pilot, Bill Overstreet flew in World War II. Overstreet is the renowned pilot who pursued and ultimately shot down a German aircraft passing under the arches of the Eiffel Tower.
Bush started with a kit, and has spent countless hours building on top of the original body of the plane with fiberglass. He asked Overstreet to autograph the wing of his plane, a custom that many builders are adopting to honor and to remember veterans.
Tony Roth, also from Salem, has been flying RC planes since age 9. One plane that he flew in the air show is a British Spitfire single-seat fighter plane from World War II. His plane uses “glow” fuel, a mixture of nitro and synthetic oil, like diesel fuel. His plane can fly for 15-20 minutes at 60-80 miles per hour.
“This doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby,” said Roth. “You can get started for as little as $100, but then some planes here this weekend cost up to $15,000 to build. You can learn basic techniques on a simulator on your own computer at home.”
Whitt Milne from Fincastle started off with fixed-wing planes, but now focuses on RC helicopters. His father flew CH-47 Chinook helicopters in Vietnam. Milne is able to fly his models everyday as it doesn’t take as much room for a helicopter to take off as a plane. He has been a member of RVRC as long as he can remember, and likes both the controlled environment of Club field and the camaraderie with those who share similar interests.
“You have to like both flying and working on aircraft,” said Milne. “You want to get your dirt to air ratio as small as possible. Any aircraft will go in the dirt, no matter what you do, but then the fun starts.”
“If you fly, you crash,” said Pedersen.
Many of the pilots in the RVRC fly every weekend at the Salem field. They fly in all seasons, and all types of weather.
“One weekend this spring the temperature was 65 degrees on Saturday and the pilots were dressed in shorts and t-shirts,” said May.” On Sunday a front came through and snow fell; pilots were out with snow skis on their planes.”
RVRC provides free flight instruction with the buddy box system. They welcome those who are interested in building and/or flying model planes. For details, contact Josh May at 314-8866, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.rvrc.org .